Vermicomposting, worm bin, composting with worms community and forums
I have an insulated flow through that is working great and the worms seem to be happy. I live in the Chicago area and the bin in located in an un-heated detached garage. I use a painters light (single light bulb with a wide silver reflective collar) to warm the bin when it gets too cold. Every other day or so I use a 1 gallon milk jug (thoroughly washed) of rain water to sprinkle the top of the crushed leaves I always place on top of the food (currently cut up pumpkin). This is working out great in the feeding area but at the bottom of the bin it looks like sopping wet mud. This is not going to be a pleasure to harvest (I won’t need to for a couple months when I start my indoor seedlings).
Has anyone else run into this situation? How do you dry castings that are this wet?
For the past 3 years I've fed pumpkin and leaves to my worms during the Fall and Winter months, and had this problem ALL the time. My barrel FT would drip liquid to the point I had to siphon with a turkey baster about 1 quart of leachate a week from the bottom of the barrel. My half barrel bins that had a solid, non-draining bottom became a mucky, wet mess at the bottom. I would put thick slabs of pumpkin in at feeding time and layer with dry leaves. My opinion is that pumpkin releases so much water as it decomposes that leaves (in any state - whole, shredded, decomposed to leaf mould) just would not absorb enough of that liquid.
So… I figured I was not using absorbent enough bedding material to soak up the pumpkin juice, and I was putting bedding on top of the pumpkins. I started using dry, torn up egg carton material as a bedding layer under the pumpkin. It really helps soak up the liquid. Putting a layer of egg carton thick enough to totally cover the top layer of the bin so you no longer can see it is not too thick. It will absorb moisture in time, AND, worms love to eat and crawl through this fibrous material. Then put your pumpkin feeding on top, and leaves on top of that if you wish… I would/do.
To help with the really wet bin material below the active worm layer(s) I have gently pulled back (like with a hand cultivator with 3-4 tines) the bin contents up to 6 inches deep and put in a couple of handfuls of dry, torn egg carton. If it's a small to medium FT I see this as doable, but if you have a 4'x8' FT or several of them then this may be a lot of work. The wet VC on the bottom is just going to have to dry out on it's own with the air it's exposed to, but slowing down the water coming in from the top of the FT will really help to bottom to not be so wet. Today, my barrel FT has a mostly dry bottom of exposed VC on top of the string grate.
The half barrel bins the water had no way to get out so I dug a hole down one edge all the way to the bottom (about 10 inches of so of bin material and VC at the time). A puddle quickly accumulated. I then crushed two whole egg cartons flat, and somewhat rolled them together and inserted them into the hole. I hoped they would act as a wick and take care of the excess moisture… they did. Originally I worried that the egg carton wick would not get consumed by the worms and bin inhabitants, but boy was I wrong. Within a few months there was no sign of egg carton.
So Larry… you might also consider just misting the leaves with water from a spray bottle, and get them just lightly wet. Of course when you check out the bin next you will see if they need another misting or if the worms are fine with them as they are. I'll tell you, I thought I'd never be able to control my FT so it didn't drip from the bottom, but it just took time, less water added to my leaf layer, and more absorbent bedding under really wet food layers.
I've harvested really wet VC from my FT before and I took the time approach to drying it out. I put the VC in tubs and left them exposed to dry out, turning them every week or so. This took me a month or so, but I wasn't in a hurry. I'm sure there's faster ways.
Larry, I agree with both John & Steve. Outside, I have the 96 gal converted garbage bin and a VB48. In the past, I used to string the reptile heater cable through different levels of the bin but this time only on 1 level. The worms just have to come up and find the warm place.
The GM (Grey Monster 96 gal) always got so much leachate and when the VC was harvested, it was too much on the dry side at the bottom. I think this is more condensation than leachate. I try to insulate GM with foam and blankets on the outside but the walls are still cold on the inside. The VB has insulation on the inside and I'm hoping there wouldn't be too much moisture coming down.
I water sparingly. I do have 2 layers of burlap on top (under the plywood lid) and this is what i water most, like 1x/week with about 1/2 lt. water. I sprinkled the top VC only if it feels dry and real fluffy.
The leaves that I used are last year's leaves I kept in a plastic bag so they are decomposing and wet already by itself. I find that "fresh/new" dry or wet leaves do not absorb water, they're only coated by water that often slid off them, no absorption there.
To dry casting, I do similar like what Steve did. Plus adding corr. cardboard at the bottom/sides and adding rolled corr.cb as chimneys to help absorption. Sometimes I think I must be crazy doing all this work, lol.
Yeah, I use the prior years leaves too as they are moist, and usually decomposed to some extent. I fill up a couple of trash cans with leaf mould (or stuff that's nearly decomposed to that state) and use it to sprinkle on top of my feed layers to add some microbes and other decomp critters. The worms love this! I bet I spend 40 hours a year collecting, shredding, bagging, un-bagging, forking, shoveling, and moving leaves to create this my worm bedding and carbon-of-choice material. My wife knows I'm crazy when it comes to leaves, but fortunately for me that falls under the "for better or worse" clause of our marriage. However, she can't deny how wonderful finished VC is and what it does to soil and plants.
Thanks for the great info. Nice to know I am not alone in this issue. I only sprinkle a small amount of water from my home made watering jug (less than 1/8 of a gallon each time). I wish I had more access to the egg crates. I have a couple that I use to regulate moisture on the top, but if I can get some more (might ask neighbors) I may do as you have suggested.
Sue, I am interested in the reptile heater cable idea. I think it may be more effective than the painters light as I could wrap it around the outer edges and only water those areas as they dry out. Are they expensive to run? I am trying to be a green as I can. I did insulate the heck out of my FT (not sure of the actual capacity).
Here is the album with pictures of when it was built:
I know what you mean about the amount of work. I use last year’s leaves, shredded with the leaf blower then grinded through ¼ screening. I soak them and then use them on top of whatever food I place in the bin. At what point does all this work outweigh the great garden plants resulting from the castings? :-) My family says these are my “pets”. They may be right.
Larry: since you are in US, you have no problem with shipping charges when buying on line, or you even may have the store right around the corner. I use 2 lengths of reptile heater, 25 W for GM and RM, and 50 for VB48. For product info only check here:
I do attach them to a thermostat. Depending on the make and model these thermostats can handle up to a total of 1000 W so you can hook up several bins using the one thermostat. However, I tried this with the GM and VB but these are different size of bins, also insulation is different and find that when the GM is warm enough, the VB is still cold. If I switch the probe to be in VB, I'm sure the GM is going to cook. So I use 2 separate Therm. The therm. and the 50W cable I bought from Amazon, the 25W from Petco for only $10 on sale.
The insulation I used in VB is the Foam insul. board, easier to install. I know of one member here who uses this fluffy/wool type of insulation around the outside of his bin. For the outside this is easier to use especially for curvey bins.
The leaves I get are from a persimmon tree and when they fall they are still moist. Just like fig leaves. People keep saying to aerate things but I kept them in a plastic bag and the bag in an old garbage bin just so no critter chew on it and make a mess, and let them break down by them selves. If I were not this lazy, I could mix in the dry leaves and this mix would be ideal I guess. I put the dry leaves on the compost heap. Hope this help.
PS: For egg cartons, go to a cafe that serves breakfast and lunch. They get the eggs in square boxes and the eggs layered with these square carton (like 18x18?). These are also easier for us to store since they come in their own box. That's where I get my egg shells and bread ends from.